A collection of stories set in the culturally and mineral-rich land of Jharkhand, ‘The Adivasi Will Not Dance’ features a singular and unapologetic voice that will make you aware of the actual problems of a community that has been pushed down the ladder of development.
Shekhar’s stories comprise of characters devoid of so many facilities in the name of development. This collection has stories that are diverse yet converge at one singular point that is built on deprivation, social injustice, bureaucracy, and marginalization.
When troupe master Mangal Murmu declines to perform the traditional ‘Santhal’ dance in front of the president of India, he is beaten mercilessly. But the government doesn’t know the reasons underlying this aggression, that Mangal Murmu is being forced to leave his land because some company from far away wants to take over his ancestral land for electricity production. It is not just about him, but hundreds of villages being displaced in order to build concrete houses and main roads for settlers who don’t belong here. Extensive mining poses another problem as their farms are confiscated and soil dug out to extract coal that will later be shipped to other parts of the country.
The collection also has stories from the ‘Santhal’ community. Stories of black magic, that is a major belief in these regions and stories of exploitation and abuse within a family. Their stories give us a glimpse of their day to day life, keeping us more grounded and turning these stories about social problems into something humane.
Each story is captivating and realistic. The unyielding narration can be proved by the fact that the book was later banned in Jharkhand as it misrepresented Santhal Women (which is debatable, given the current scenario). As a resident of this place, this story hits home. The author’s purpose is to bring facts into the light and he does that without any fuss. Progress in Jharkhand has come with a price and this book is an eye-opener.
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Blurb (as on Goodreads):
In this collection of stories, set in the fecund, mineral-rich hinterland and the ever-expanding, squalid towns of Jharkhand, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar breathes life into a set of characters who are as robustly flesh and blood as the soil from which they spring, where they live, and into which they must sometimes bleed.
Troupe-master Mangal Murmu refuses to perform for the President of India and is beaten down; Suren and Gita, a love-blind couple, wait with quiet desperation outside a neonatal ward, hoping—for different reasons—that their blue baby will turn pink; Panmuni and Biram Soren move to Vadodara in the autumn of their lives, only to find that they must stop eating meat to be accepted as citizens; Baso-jhi is the life of the village of Sarjomdih but, when people begin to die for no apparent reason, a ghastly accusation from her past comes back to haunt her; and Talamai Kisku of the Santhal Pargana, migrating to West Bengal in search of work, must sleep with a policeman for fifty rupees and two cold bread pakoras.
THE ADIVASI WILL NOT DANCE is a mature, passionate, intensely political book of stories, made up of the very stuff of life. It establishes Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar as one of our most important contemporary writers.